Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal spends much of his time these days driving his children to sporting events. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley plays guitar sing-alongs with college students. And Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker presented a proclamation at the World Dairy Expo to the 2015 “Cow of the Year.”
Leaving the national spotlight can be a pride-swallowing experience for politicians who have grown accustomed to being in constant demand as guests on nationally televised Sunday shows. Some never recover their relevancy, and it can take them months or even years to adjust to their diminished statuses.
Instead of meeting with millionaires to talk about contributing to his run for the highest office in the land, Walker, who quit the race in September, is holding private meetings with donors to raise funds that can pay down his presidential campaign debt.
Other former 2016 candidates have retreated to their private lives or to more modest public appearances, still trying to remain relevant.
Former Republican candidate and Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore regularly tweets his appearances on little-known talk shows, such as a San Diego AM radio show.
And Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Chis Christie and Jeb Bush have all endorsed candidates and Walker likely will before the April 5 Wisconsin.
But even those actions can show how far the former candidates have fallen.
Asked about his views and opinions on ABC’s “The View” in October when he and Trump were battling for first place, Carson was grilled on ABC’s “The View” this week over his support for the billionaire front-runner, with Whoopi Goldberg exclaiming, “You’re Ben Carson! You’re so much better than this!”
Republican operatives and officials have described cringing as they watched Christie being publicly humiliated by Trump. The GOP front-runner, despite accepting Christie’s endorsement, has appeared to belittle Christie in public appearances and was caught on video brusquely dismissing the governor from the campaign stage. A mocking #FreeChrisChristie hashtag has been circulating on social media.
“Chris Christie looks like a Trump chump,” said Ted CruzTed CruzBrietbart CEO reveals that Trump donors are part owners At CPAC, Trump lashes out at media Conquering Trump returns to conservative summit MORE’s former national spokesman Rick Tyler, in a telephone interview with The Hill on Thursday. “It’s unbelievable how diminished he is.”
How failed candidates respond to their new status depends to a large extent on their age and expectations leading into the campaign, says David Catalfamo, a long-time senior adviser to former New York Gov. George Pataki.
Catalfamo, communications director on Pataki’s unsuccessful 2016 run for the Republican nomination, says Pataki knew his chances were small and at the outset, and that this was his last tilt at public office having been out of the governor’s mansion for a decade. Lower expectations made it easier to adjust to failure, he says.
Tyler, who resigned as national spokesman of Ted Cruz’s campaign after circulating an inaccurate report about Marco RubioMarco RubioAt CPAC, Trump lashes out at media Conquering Trump returns to conservative summit Rubio brushes off demonstrator asking about town halls MORE – an error for which he immediately apologized –thinks the problem with politicians is that they're trained to talk about the past.
They've spent, in some cases decades, traveling back and forth between D.C. and their home district, constantly reminding their donors and constituents of what they've done for them, he said.
But unless a politician can find a compelling way to talk about ideas and the future he has a shelf-life in the media of about 18 months after leaving office, Tyler says.
Tyler recalls some challenging early days when his former boss Newt Gingrich was no longer the House Speaker and decided to make some fundraising calls.
“He sat down and made one call and it didn’t go well,” Tyler said. “Then he got up and said I am not doing this anymore. Because he wasn’t Speaker anymore, and the donor on the other end understood you’re not Speaker anymore.”
But Tyler says Gingrich quickly became “master” at remaining relevant. He hasn’t fallen into the politician’s trap of hanging on to his past achievements, which limits a former politician’s appeal to cable TV bookers and public speaking agencies.
“He doesn’t sit there saying, ‘when we passed the Contract for America…’ Even though that’s a huge part of his legacy,” Tyler said of Gingrich. “He’s always been able to stay interesting…It’s sort of scary [that]… there are very few politicians or former politicians who are successful at this.”
Staying relevant is a challenge for former campaign operatives, too, after their boss drops out of a presidential race.
Matt Beynon, who handled communications on Rick Santorum’s 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns, describes the staffer’s experience of dropping out of a national race as “going from 100 miles an hour to zero overnight.”
Timmy Teepell, who was Jindal’s campaign manager, says the life of a campaign operative means making peace with ridiculously intense on-off cycles. “Presidential campaigns are just crazy, non-stop, 24-hours… then when campaigns are over, it’s time to re-engage with my family.”
Jimmy Stracner, Ben Carson’s Nevada state director, has since been dealing with pneumonia and an unusually quiet cell phone.
“It’s going from having a lot to do to having nothing to do,” Stracner told The Hill in a telephone interview, discussing the experience of moving from being a top player for a high-profile national candidate to what he calls "civilian life."
For the moment he has focused on reacquainting himself with his family and friends, getting healthy again and running his political consulting business.
“You have to re-acclimatize yourself to friends, society, your family…When you’re working on a campaign you everything in your life aside," Stracner said.
“You go back to civilian life and no-one’s really interested in you anymore… Until the next time.”